Golden Rule Christianity: Lived Religion in the American Mainstream

Ammerman, Nancy T. “Golden Rule Christianity: Lived Religion in the American Mainstream.” In Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice. David D. Hall, ed. Pp. 196-216. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

“Golden Rule Christianity” reclassifies the “lay liberals” in Hoge, Johnson and Luidens’ book Vanishing Boundaries as “Golden Rule Christians,” those religious persons defined not by ideology but by practices of doing good and caring for others. Of the 1,564 respondents who completed surveys as part of the Congregations in Changing Communities project, Golden Rule Christians comprise 51% of the total, with evangelically-oriented respondents at 29% and social activists at 19% of the total. Golden Rule Christians are found in Catholic as well as mainline and evangelical Protestant congregations, and they could be the dominant form of religiosity among middle-class suburban Americans. Golden Rule practices demonstrate the pursuit of caring relationships and doing works of comfort—focused first on the family and church and then extending to the larger community and world—while placing a high value on tolerance and diversity. Golden Rule religion is not unreligious because its practitioners—though often lacking any discernible ideological center and religious vocabulary—continue to identify with churches and claim to experience the transcendent in their lives. Golden Rule congregations are generally low-commitment congregations who favor opportunities to serve people in need, dynamic worship, and attractive activities for their children. Ammerman believes this type of lived religion will continue to be pervasive in American Christianity.